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We’ve packaged up everything you need to know about best IR practice, how our previous winners won, exclusive interviews with past judges and much more. Read on to gain tips and ideas
Awards-by-nomination: What the judges are looking for
Garnet Roach caught up with some of last year’s judges from our awards in Greater China and South East Asia to find out what they’re looking for across a range of categories.
Best annual report
William Tsang, head of research, Chartwell Capital and judge for the IR Magazine Awards Greater China – 2021
I always pay attention to the chairman’s or CEO’s letter to shareholders as it provides me with a sense of the firm’s culture and its overall direction, as well as its ambitions for the future. Most companies mainly talk about what they are doing, but if the firm can provide insights and figures at the industry level, it makes it a lot more appealing to me. I also like consistency, so that there’s a base for investors to keep track of the company.
When it comes to information disclosure, I would say there’s no upper limit here. After all, these are listed companies and they are responsible for disclosing information to their public shareholders, though I do understand that some businesses are rather sensitive and feel they can’t reveal too much as part of their corporate secrecy.
I have noticed a trend where listed corporates are expanding their efforts in IR and how IR communicates with shareholders, as well as their efforts connecting the capital markets – I think this is important and I find it quite useful. The footnotes in the balance sheet, income statements and cash flow statements are also very important. More and clearer explanations on each item can definitely create more trust between investors and the firm, and these figures are very helpful for analysts when researching the company.
When it comes to the design of the annual report, this isn’t something I usually pay much attention to but, for example, [among the 2021 nominees], one company especially stood out: [best annual report winner in the mid-cap category] Xtep. It changed the design of the annual report to align with its branding efforts and also changed the shape of the report itself. It was something different and refreshing, which I appreciated. All these bits and pieces actually tell you the team has invested quite a lot of effort.
Best crisis management
What I want to see is how the company is addressing issues directly and at the same time compare that with peers in the market. Also, who is its target audience when managing the crisis? The company can further elaborate on its own crisis management process and protocols. I want to know how the crisis has impacted the share price, too, as well as the benefits for shareholders and the outcome after the company has managed the crisis.
From the submission point of view, I would expect this to be more like storytelling, with a timeline involved. I want to get a sense how efficient the company is in terms of identifying a crisis and its ability to address it.
Best ESG materiality reporting
Professor Roy Ling, CEO & founder, FollowTrade and judge for the IR Magazine Awards South East Asia – 2021
Overall, I assess the strength of a nominee’s sustainability practices on how detailed and granular the factors are that nominees disclose, which are financially material to that company. The clearer and more crystallized the material factors are, the more confident I am that nominees with strong sustainability roadmaps offer prospects of better risk-adjusted returns over the long term.
Most nominees have used one or more of the major ESG frameworks as a reference guide, but what really stands out for me will be the nominee’s ability to demonstrate deep understanding of each sector and the company’s own ESG challenges and opportunities. Some examples of ESG best practices nominees have undertaken include:
• Validating each set of metrics with internal research and stakeholder perspectives
• Sector-focused workshops with external industry specialists to expose stakeholders to issues on the ground and to enhance appreciation of the materiality of the factors considered and how they should be integrated
• Data acquired on material ESG metrics used in integrated reporting and analytics
• Organization of regular meetings by IR with company management to better understand how ESG issues are being managed and transmitting key ESG insights to stakeholders.
It is important to customize the material indicators to each nominee’s sector and specific circumstances, as a one-size-fits-all approach will dilute impact. This makes implementation challenging, particularly with regards to scale and comparison across sectors.
Best investor event
Garnet Roach, senior reporter at IR Magazine and judge for both the IR Magazine Awards Greater China – 2021 and the IR Magazine Awards South East Asia – 2021
This can be a tricky category to judge because reading about an event is never the same as actually attending. For this reason, what I’m looking for is a story that pulls me into the action and gives a real feeling of what it was like and why it was memorable for investors, analysts and other stakeholders.
It is always interesting to hear about the challenges companies faced and how they overcame these as well as perhaps anything they would do differently with the benefit of hindsight. I don’t just want the glossy story of success – I want to know the issues IR teams had to grapple with to create that success.
Unlike some categories, where the outcome is perhaps less interesting than the process, I think there’s a lot companies can share when it comes to the outcome of their investor event: did sentiment change? Did the company gain more analysts? What sort of feedback did it receive both internally and externally?
As judges, we sometimes read entries where you can tell the event was probably more interesting than the entry actually sounds. I’d recommend taking some time away from your entry and then rereading it: does it really paint the full picture of what you achieved?
Best IR during a corporate transaction
Joshua Lee, senior portfolio manager, Bank of Singapore and judge for the IR Magazine Awards South East Asia – 2021
Sometimes, in the middle of a transaction, people are just focused on getting past the voting hurdle and doing the usual things, such as listing on the exchange or whatever. But what I liked about one of the companies was that it was more structured in what it did. It had an initial strategy, for example, to expand investor outreach – just those three words explain a lot. There’s a focus, there’s a KPI there. The company wants to expand the investor base and it wants to excite investors with the company story.
Even though what it was doing might be similar to what other companies did, the way the entry was structured and the way the plan was laid out made it unique and showed the firm’s level of thinking and organization.
Looking at what companies have to enter in the self-nomination form: challenge and objective – that is clear. Strategy and implementation – here, a lot of the nominees wrote very generic things, which didn’t really convey the sense of what they were doing or whether they were doing it well. A generic answer doesn’t show the judges that a firm has thought very deeply about this question. But that’s where companies can get the vote over the line.
I don’t really focus on the results too much because, usually, whatever the company was trying to achieve, it has done. It is the strategy and implementation section that is more important to me.
Simon Weston, senior fund manager, AXA Investment Managers and judge for the IR Magazine Awards Greater China – 2021
You’re less likely to have an entry where the transaction hasn’t happened because clearly, IR would not have been successful in what it was seeking to achieve. But it doesn’t have to have been a successful transaction.
And actually, because in Asia so many of the transactions are connected transactions that typically do go through, it is always interesting when a transaction doesn’t get approval. Regardless of whether the transaction went through or not, though, what I’m looking for in an entry is some idea of the experience the IR team went through. For example, it’s a different dynamic when the controlling shareholder is involved than if you need to get minority shareholders onside – how did that influence the IR strategy?
Best IR website
I look for a few things when judging this category:
• The contents of the website: does it contain enough information for anyone to learn what the company is and what it does?
• Ease of navigation: this one is quite subjective but different stakeholders should be able to access and locate what they need easily
• IR contact details: here I expect to find IR contact information, newsletter subscription options, the corporate presentation – which is different from annual reports and/or official earnings announcements
• A short corporate video would be great
• Desktop, tablet and mobile-friendly versions that all work seamlessly
• Past investor events, upcoming investor events and the option for investors to register for these via the website
• Design: it is always a bonus when the design complements the business or the sector the company is in.
Best use of multimedia for IR
Vijay Natarajan, real estate and real estate investment trusts analyst and judge for the IR Magazine Awards South East Asia – 2021
First, I look at it from point of view of an analyst, or from an investment community point of view: does this [multimedia] help make things simple and easy for the investment community to understand? Multimedia should be a tool to help you get to the point within the next two to three steps. The same goes for company websites.
I would also look at some of the statistics the company has mentioned and the journey it has taken. I want to understand what the problem was and how the firm is trying to solve it.
Many companies say, for example, that previous investment feedback pointed to a difficulty in finding certain information and that, off the back of that feedback, the company revamped the website, increasing traffic and making for a smoother experience. If I read this, the first thing I will do is try to find that information myself. I will look at the scale of the multimedia the company is using, too, as well as which platforms, because that is quite interesting and important.
I also try to look at multimedia from a retail investor point of view: multimedia needs to be scalable, it needs to be about reaching a wide audience and also offer an opportunity to be more creative in the way companies present data. Institutional investors know a lot of ways to reach companies but retail investors are the ones who may not be as savvy, who may not have the same amount of access. Those are the innovations that I think really matter: the ones that help retail investors want to get engaged.
And effort counts. It’s not just about putting a dollar amount on something or getting the big brands or big consultants in to get things done. Multimedia that looks good is important, but that also has to be adjusted and looked at through a lens of what a corporate is trying to do in terms of getting its message across.
Click here to view a full list of winners and short-listed companies for the 2021 Greater China Awards, and here for the 2021 South East Asia Awards.
Tim Human speaks with Stanley Zhou, IR director of ZhongAn, about how the Shanghai-based online insurer’s youth-focused brand has led to success
Many companies today use video to tell their story to investors, but most are not as creatively brave as ZhongAn Online P&C Insurance. Last year, it commissioned a music video featuring a rap about the firm’s 2020 results and a man posing in a horse hat. Oh, and the actor in the hat was the head of IR.
Launched in 2013, ZhongAn is a pioneer in the insurtech industry, where start-ups use technology to offer faster, cheaper and more tailored services to customers than the traditional insurance market. The Chinese company has a youth-focused brand – most customers are under 35 – and it incorporates this image into all its communications, including IR activities.
‘Most of our customers are from younger generations – our products are the first policies they have bought in their life,’ explains Stanley Zhou, director of capital markets and IR (and the man in the horse hat). ‘So when we do earnings, we want to leverage our culture to attract customers and [showcase] our products to investors and analysts.’
ZhongAn’s innovative approach to IR caught the attention of the judges for the IR Magazine Awards – Greater China 2021, who handed the company two prizes: best use of multimedia for IR and best investor event (for a small or mid-cap). So what has ZhongAn been doing in those two areas that made it stand out from the crowd?
It’s not really a surprise that ZhongAn’s IR team excels at multimedia use. Set up as an online insurer targeting Generation Y and Z consumers, the company has digital marketing baked into its DNA.
A key focus of the IR department is reaching investors and analysts via their smartphones. ‘I think we are [among] the first batch of listed companies to leverage cellphone-based channels to interact with investors,’ says Zhou, who majored in Arabic at Shanghai International Studies University before pursuing a career in finance. ‘Investors are busy: they are not able to sit in the office and check the data of the companies they follow.’
ZhongAn has set up an official account on WeChat, China’s biggest social media platform with well over 1 bn users, as well as a WeChat Mini-program – a ‘sub-application’ where companies can offer additional functionality. The insurer distributes monthly financial data through the WeChat ecosystem, as well as broader news and video content, to offer a comprehensive view of business activities, says Zhou.
In addition, ZhongAn works with various online investment platforms to spread its message to retail investors. For example, it has an account with Tonghuashun, a major provider of financial data. ‘We appreciate the interest of [individual investors], and it is also a very good branding opportunity for us to promote our products,’ Zhou points out.
This mix of IR communications and product marketing in the same message is perhaps best displayed by the insurer’s music videos. Following the success of the hip-hop video, which raked up more than 1 mn views, lists and reposts, ZhongAn did a follow-up with a rock soundtrack – although this time the IR team played a behind-the-scenes role. ‘It’s become a tradition for us,’ Zhou says.
Along with its gong for best use of multimedia for IR, ZhongAn also received plaudits at the IR Magazine Awards – Greater China 2021 for a three-day investor event focused on its technology segment.
ZhongAn has major business units for its own insurance products, such as healthcare, auto and lifestyle, but it also makes technology available to other players in the industry to help them with their own digital transformation. Held in January 2021, the ZhongAn Open Day's aim was to give investors, analysts, media and business partners a better understanding of the technology on offer and how it adds value.
‘During roadshows, investors are always curious about how technology helps to improve our business operations and value chain – but that’s hard to visualize,’ says Zhou.
So for the event, ZhongAn renovated its Insurtech Experience Center, adding high-tech displays and interactive devices. Speakers included members of the C-suite and leaders from major business divisions, who discussed the digital trends shaping the insurance industry. In total, there were 24 speeches and five roundtable discussions, while organizers also released two white papers and an updated version of one of ZhongAn’s flagship products.
What does Zhou think investors and analysts most appreciated about the event? It was the interactive elements, such as artificial intelligence robots, that helped to bring the technology to life, he says: ‘They got a clearer view about how technology can improve the industry, rather than hearing about it from my speeches during the roadshow. That’s the most impressive part for the audience.’
Accentuating the positive: Interview with rising star award winner Christine Yang
Senior IR analyst recognized by IR Magazine Awards – Greater China 2021
Amid the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Christine Yang, senior IR analyst at Central China Real Estate, embraced digital tools and events to help her company stay close to the investment community.
That work included co-ordinating a monthly online reverse roadshow that included bilingual introductory videos, and teaching the management team how to stay connected with the market through online platforms.
Her efforts were recognized in December last year when she won the rising star trophy at the IR Magazine Awards – Greater China 2021. The award is for an IRO who has been in the profession less than five years and contributed fresh thinking or a unique approach.
In a video interview with IR Magazine, Yang discusses her career path so far, what skills she brought from previous roles into IR and how her company’s engagement with the market has evolved during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the pandemic has thrown up many challenges for IR teams, Yang says it has been rewarding to find solutions. ‘In this environment, I have come into contact with more investors that I perhaps would not have encountered before, which makes me really excited and enthusiastic about my work,’ she says.
Highlighting another positive, Yang notes how, during pre-pandemic physical roadshows, sometimes an investor would cancel at the last minute – obliterating the only opportunity that year to meet that fund. ‘This situation rarely, if ever, happens in the virtual world as one can be more flexible, with the ability to reschedule meetings,’ she says. ‘We can always reschedule for another week or month.’
Turning to life outside of work, Yang says she has maintained a healthy mindset during the pandemic by challenging herself with a new hobby. ‘Recently I have learned to wake surf, which has allowed me to conquer my fear of water since I was a kid. The sense of achievement brings me positive energy,’ she says.